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For the Cast of ‘Father Knows Best,’ Life Wasn’t Exactly a Sitcom: The Joys and Tragedies Revealed

If you were to come up with a Classic TV sitcom that embodied 1950s American family values — not necessarily life as it was, but as many imagined it — you could probably start and stop with Father Knows Best, the series that starred Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin. Running for six years, the show became the equivalent of comfort food, as the characters dealt with the gentle humor and drama of being a family unit, where all problems were resolved within half an hour (commercials included). Unfortunately, real life didn’t work in quite the same way for much of the cast.

The show had its beginnings in radio, with Robert leading an entirely different cast and an approach that was a bit more sarcastic, the humor a bit harder-edged (at least for the time). It ran on NBC Radio from 1949-1954, which was the same year that it made the leap to television. There the live action series ran on CBS from 1954-1955, NBC from 1955-1958 and back to CBS from 1958-1960, for a total of 203 episode. In 1977 the show would be the subject of a pair of NBC TV movies, Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas, both of which brought back together the entire cast — life for many of which hadn’t been easy nor would it continue to be for some time.

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